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With the increasing numbers of states that are decriminalizing or outright legalizing the use of marijuana, many individuals view marijuana as a “safe drug” that cannot lead to an addiction. However, this logic falls flat on several fronts. First, drugs such as alcohol have had a legal but regulated status in the US for many decades, but alcohol addiction is a well-recognized phenomenon that negatively impacts the lives of millions of Americans. Second, individuals can become addicted to any number of substances or activities, from food to sex to gambling, etc. No substance or activity is inherently “safe” if it can engender addictive behavior in a specific population of its users. And, studies have shown that marijuana use can rapidly descend into addiction in a specific sub-set of the population.

The Signs of Marijuana Addiction (Use vs. Abuse)

Use is when one uses a substance occasionally, recreationally or to treat a medical or psychiatric condition. One may use Vicodin after surgery when they have pain, but they do not use it when they are not having pain. Similarly, one may have a drink or two drinks during a party to relax and unwind, but they do not drink excessively, while driving, or regularly. Abuse becomes apparent when one suffers negative consequences of use, whether the negative consequences are internal (mood swings, poor self-esteem, anger) or external (legal, financial, relationship problems). Abuse is especially apparent when associated with cravings, or using a substance, such as marijuana, to manage one’s emotions or psychological symptoms.

Continued Use After Suffering Negative Consequences

An occasional joint or recreational or medical use of marijuana and other THC preparation may not cause any problems. However, when marijuana and THC use create medical, psychiatric, emotional, financial, legal, work, or other problems, then it is likely that the person is suffering from a marijuana addiction and can likely benefit from treatment. Marijuana addicts continue to use the drug even after they have suffered from financial, legal or other consequences. Much like with alcohol, there are many who can responsibly use marijuana or some form of THC without negative consequences and only use it in appropriate circumstances. But, others seem to need to use marijuana or THC throughout their daily lives, even when driving, working, and looking after children, etc.

infographic using marijuana plant icons and pie chart to show who can develop marijuana addiction

Marijuana Addiction Can Mask Underlying Health Issues

If one is uncontrollably using marijuana, there may be an underlying reason, such as an emotional disturbance, mental health or psychiatric problems, or a medical problem, such as chronic pain. These underlying conditions can be diagnosed, evaluated and treated in a qualified inpatient or residential drug treatment center and treated simultaneously with the marijuana addiction. However, if an individual avoids treatment, these conditions may go undiagnosed and may continue to get worse as they are left untreated. In fact, it is very common for individuals to use marijuana to “self-medicate” a variety of disorders instead of seeking the appropriate physical or mental health treatment for them.

Ways Addicts Feed Their Marijuana Addiction

Marijuana and its main psychoactive component, THC, has seen an explosion in the variety of ways that it can be consumed. The following list enumerates just some of the ways in which marijuana and THC can be consumed by those with a marijuana addiction.

  • Flower (marijuana buds) – Can be smoked in a joint, bowl, or bong
  • Edible – Candies, cakes, chews, ice cream
  • Joints – Marijuana cigarettes that are either pre- or self-rolled
  • Concentrates – Dabs, oils, hash, wax, and shatter (dried concentrate)
  • Beverages – Sodas, teas, juices, hot chocolate, coffees
  • Tinctures and sublingual – Are meant to be placed under the tongue or in the mouth
  • Topical creams, salves, oils and ointments – To be applied externally to the skin
  • Capsules and pills – Containing THC
photo of a billboard sign reading medical marijuana

The Facts About Medical Marijuana

Many states have recently approved the use of “medical marijuana” for the treatment of various conditions. Each state has its own individual criteria and regulations for how these laws are implemented, but most have some sort of prescription-based system. Due to this fact, one can look at the potential for abuse and addiction to “medical marijuana” through the same lens that one would examine the potential for addiction to other prescription drugs. In other words, simply because a drug is prescribed by a doctor doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have potential for abuse and addiction. In addition, many states are encountering some of the same issues with “medical marijuana” that others have experienced during the recent prescription pill epidemic, namely that some doctors and “pill mills” spring up that prescribe medications with little to no oversight over their medical necessity. With medical marijuana, this issue may be even more prevalent as many perceive it as a “safe” drug with little potential for abuse or addiction. The example of California’s checklist when they first approved “medical marijuana” is similar to those of many other states.

Approved Uses for Medical Marijuana in California

The following is a list of the conditions for which marijuana could be prescribed when it was first approved for medical use in California:

  • Cancer
  • Anorexia
  • AIDS
  • Chronic pain
  • Spasticity
  • Cachexia (wasting – weight loss, muscle loss, weakness, fatigue, poor appetite)
  • Persistent muscle spasms, including those associated with multiple sclerosis
  • Seizures, including, but not limited to, those associated with epilepsy
  • Severe nausea
  • Glaucoma
  • Arthritis
  • Migraines
  • Any other chronic or persistent medical symptom that substantially limits the ability of the person to conduct one or more major life activities (as defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990) or, if not alleviated, may cause serious harm to the patient’s safety or physical or mental health.

The last bullet in this list opens the door to medical marijuana treatment for almost any medical, emotional, or psychiatric disorder – enabling unscrupulous doctors to prescribe “medical marijuana” to basically anyone.

Marinol: The Prescription Path to Marijuana Addiction

Marinol is the trade name for the chemical dronabinol. Dronabinol is a synthetic version of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), which is the major psychotropic constituent of the marijuana plant. This medication is tightly controlled by the FDA and is indicated for use in those who need a boost in appetite (cancer, HIV/AIDS), or in those who have cancer and experience chemotherapy agent-induced nausea and vomiting.

Because Marinol contains THC and THC has the potential to induce addiction, tolerance and withdrawal, Marinol addiction is also possible. With Marinol addiction, one can expect the same consequences, and signs and symptoms as seen with marijuana addiction or another THC addiction. However, since Marinol is a prescription medication, those addicted to it may also forge prescriptions, steal the medication, “lose” their prescriptions, or doctor shop. A person legally receiving a Marinol prescription may run out of Marinol early if they are addicted to or abusing it, making this a key sign of this prescription drug-based form of marijuana addiction.

Throw Off the Chains of Marijuana Addiction Today

If you or a loved one has a marijuana addiction, you know how much it can govern their life and influence their decision-making. To an addict, there is no such thing as a “safe drug,” and marijuana abuse can quickly cause an individual’s life to spiral downward into self-defeating apathy and fatalism. Call BWR 24/7 at 800-683-4457 to regain control of the reins of your destiny.


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.


Behavioral Wellness & Recovery is a Joint Commission accredited program. The Joint Commission recognizes excellence in health care organizations and programs.

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